COLUMBIA, S.C. (Avery G. Wilks/The State) - The Carolina Panthers will get $115 million in state tax discounts from South Carolina when the Charlotte-based NFL team moves its headquarters and practice facilities across the N.C. border and to Rock Hill.
S.C. state lawmakers officially passed the incentive package Monday after ironing out minor tweaks to the bill last week, and after a spirited debate earlier this month over the deal’s projected economic benefits.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, one of the deal’s strongest supporters at the State House, is expected to sign H. 4243 into law soon.
“The win for South Carolina is incredible,” said House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, adding the $200 million project will add to Rock Hill’s reputation as “Football City USA.”
The 25-year-old football franchise plans to purchase up to 200 acres of Rock Hill land and break ground later this year on a massive, state-of-the-art sports complex. The project will feature a new team headquarters, a sports medicine facility and two practice facilities, including an indoor one with up to 10,000 seats.
State and local leaders say it will rival the top sports hubs anywhere in the country, sparking the development of hotels, shops and residential projects along Interstate Highway 77 in York County. To that end, they have pledged to spend $40 million of taxpayer dollars to build a new I-77 interchange providing access to the expected Panthers’ site, located between Dave Lyle Boulevard and Eden Terrace.
Top lawmakers say the federal government will chip in about $20 million for that project, while the state pitches in $12.5 million and the city of Rock Hill contributes the remaining $7.5 million. The Panthers are not expected to help pay for it.
The Panthers plan to move their operations to the site by early 2022. However, the team will continue to play its home games at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
The General Assembly passed the bill two months after McMaster and top State House leaders announced the deal at a March 13 press conference in the State House.
But its passage was far from guaranteed. Freshman state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, blocked a vote on the deal for two months to force the state Commerce Department to release its projections for the deal’s economic impact.
Harpootlian then hired his own economist to call those projections into question, finding the projected $3.8 billion impact was overstated by at least $2.7 billion.
Some lawmakers struggled to justify offering $115 million in tax discounts and a $40 million interchange to an NFL team owned by a billionaire, David Tepper, while S.C. schools remain underfunded and state roads are riddled with potholes.
In the end, Senate Democrats got on board with the deal only after amending it with a proposal that offers greater tax breaks to companies that choose to locate or expand in rural, poor areas of the state.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, labeled that change a “legislative buy-off.” But it won votes among senators who otherwise had no reason to support a tax break that only benefits the north-central region of South Carolina.